Jimi Hendrix Experience
“Red House” is a song written by Jimi Hendrix and originally recorded in 1966 by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It is a slowtwelve-bar blues, which music writer Keith Shadwick calls “one of the most traditional in sound and form of all his official recordings”. It was developed during Hendrix’s pre-Experience days while he was performing in Greenwich Village, and was inspired by earlier blues songs. Hendrix recorded several studio and live versions of the song during his career; “Red House” has also been recorded by a variety of blues and other artists.
“Red House” was inspired by blues songs Hendrix was performing with Curtis Knight and the Squires in 1965 and 1966. Music critic Charles Shaar Murray calls the Hendrix/Knight version of “California Night” as “a dead ringer, both in structure and mood, for his 1967 perennial ‘Red House'”. “California Night” (sometimes misidentified as “Every Day I Have the Blues”; both songs use the verse “Nobody loves me”) was originally recorded by Albert King in 1961 as “Travelin’ to California”. “Travelin’ to California” is a slow (70 beats per minute) twelve-bar blues in the key of B♭ with lyrics that follow the common blues theme of the rambling man and his lost love.
“California Night” features an early vocal performance by Hendrix and uses Albert King’s lyrics and arrangement. Two versions were recorded live and issued on European bootleg albums in the 1970s and 1980s. It is believed that these were recorded December 26, 1965 at George’s Club 22 in Hackensack, New Jersey and in one, Hendrix reminded the band “B♭” before counting off the song. Shadwick describes it as “a staggering display of blues guitar playing that is worthy of mention in the same breath as his later efforts with the Experience”. Although his guitar tone and phraseology is compared to that of Buddy Guy, Shadwick adds that his techniques “simply transcend any previous models, and breaks new ground” and shows that “his ability to spin out long and consistently surprising lines across the standard blues changes is already full grown”. In 1966, during his residency as “Jimmy James and the Blue Flames” at the Cafe Wha? in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Hendrix continued to develop his slow blues number that became “Red House”.
“Red House” was one of the earliest songs recorded by the Experience. The recording took place Tuesday, December 13, 1966 at the CBS Studios in London following their performance of “Hey Joe” for the Ready Steady Go! music television program. Producer Chas Chandler explained
The ‘Red House’ on the album [Are You Experienced] came about during the last fifteen minutes of [the 12/13] session. Noel [ Noel Redding ] even played rhythm guitar on the track, playing the bass line. Jimi just winged through one take for reference and we started rolling.
Redding added, “I had borrowed a terrible old hollow-body electric guitar from someone at the studio … because I liked to play along on rhythm to familiarise myself with a sequence, not being quite at home on the bass yet”. The guitar was tuned down one-half step, with the tone controls set to resemble a bass guitar.
Additional takes of the song were recorded at De Lane Lea Studios on December 21, 1966, which closely followed the earlier arrangement. However, both Hendrix and Redding had problems with missed notes and the takes were not used, except for a backing track that Hendrix later overdubbed at the Olympic Studios on March 29 or early April 1967. When preparing the final mixes for Are You Experienced, Chandler chose to use the track recorded at CBS: “Later when we were scrambling to put the album together, we carted that [12/13 track] out and gave it a listen. We remixed it at Olympic and added it to the album”. The De Lane Lea/Olympic version was later used for the American Smash Hits album.
“Red House” is a slow (66 beats per minute) twelve-bar blues, notated in 12/8 time in the key of B. Although Hendrix fingered the song in the key of B, he usually tuned his guitar one-half step and sometimes one step lower, resulting in a lower pitch. The song opens with a diminished seventh chord frequently found in blues songs, including the intros to the Robert Johnson songs “Dead Shrimp Blues”, “Kind Hearted Woman”, and “32-20 Blues”. After the four-bar intro, Redding and Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell come in while Hendrix solos up to the vocal at bar thirteen. After two twelve-bar vocal sections, Hendrix solos for twelve bars, then finishes up with another vocal section, following the same arrangement Albert King used for “Travelin’ to California”.
The song’s most prominent characteristic is Hendrix’s guitar work. Shadwick describes it as a “close approximation of the human voice … scooping and bending his phrases to maximum expressive effect”. John Lee Hooker commented, “That ‘Red House’, that’ll make you grab your mother and choke her! Man, that’s really hard, that tears you apart. He could get down, he could mash it, yeah, Lord! He had so many blues”. Bassist Billy Cox of Hendrix’s post-Experience Band of Gypsys described “Red House” as “Jimi’s way of using his musical roots, everything he knew and understood best, in a pop context”.